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7. 7 The Bill Of 1891

THE HANSARD OF THE CONVENTION sufficiently relates its proceedings from its opening to the appointment of its Committees, which did their work in private and whose records have until now remained unpublished. The resolutions submitted by Sir Henry Parkes were considered and somewhat amended at a meeting of Premiers. It was understood that Sir Samuel Griffith had a considerable share of responsibility for their form and expression and that for him they would have consisted of little more than a declaratory paragraph setting out the advantages of Union for purposes of defence and intercolonial trade. The speech in which they were introduced by Sir Henry threw no new light upon them and it was the address which followed from Sir Samuel that brought the delegates at once face to face with the issues by which they were to be divided. The requirement that all laws should require the assent of a majority of the States [in] addition to a majority of the people was assumed by him and accepted by the Convention as fundamental. So overwhelming was the United States precedent in this regard, that when he proceeded to urge as a corollary that the Senate should exercise co-ordinate powers even as regards money bills and to indicate the probability that the British system under which Ministers are responsible chiefly, if not solely, to the elective branch of the legislature would probably be greatly modified by the co-existence of two Chambers possessing equal authority in every respect, he fairly raised the issue which at once served the Convention into two camps and thus provided the party distinction without which practical political argument seems impossible. The spectacle of a Government, whose members might not sit in either House of the Legislature and whose tenure of the office might be independent, instinctively repelled the radicals though they very dimly realised the value to the democracy of the Executives to which they had always been accustomed and roused the distrust also of the old Parliamentarians, whose experience of the actual work of carrying on government had taught them the leverage which the association


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of a Cabinet with the popular House endowed with special financial powers had always given them. What they knew of the United States did not encourage any of them to any sanguine forecast of how such a government would work. Sir Samuel Griffith had a philosophic confidence that in the end the future Unionists would work out their own Salvation, but this characteristic confidence was not shared by others to whom his temperament of intellectual detachment and unemotional speculation was as foreign as his views. Mr Munro and Mr Playford, two practical-minded Premiers, united in the emphatic declaration that they were not prepared to abrogate responsible government as the colonies knew it for any Executive chosen on the American or Swiss methods, or to allow any second Chamber, not even a Federal Senate, to exercise equal powers over such a Ministry or over its financial policy. Sir Thomas McIlwraith reiterated his chief's contention that the Senate must have equal powers and all the colonies equal representation in it in order to preserve their individuality. The battle was fairly open and the centre of conflict plainly revealed before the second day's debate was over.

More than half the ‘Hansard’ of the Convention is occupied by the general discussion of the Parkes Resolutions which were finally referred to committees upon: 1. Constitutional Functions; 2. Finance and Trade; 3. A Federal Judiciary; the last two reporting their results to the first, upon which was cast the responsibility of embodying them in a Bill. This main Committee consisted of Sir Henry Parkes and Mr Barton for New South Wales; Mr Gillies and Mr Deakin for Victoria; Sir Samuel Griffith and Mr Thynne for Queensland; Mr Playford and Sir John Downer for South Australia; Mr Clark and Mr Adye Douglas for Tasmania; Sir George Grey and Captain Russell for New Zealand; Mr John Forrest and Sir James Lee Steere for Western Australia. Sir Samuel Griffith was elected Chairman and the Committee at once proceeded to work under his direction. Sir Henry Parkes remained throughout almost a silent member, taking no interest in points of detail and only striking in when the important principle of the relative powers of the two Houses was involved. To this restraint of his there was one notable exception. His literary tastes and habits led him to take a deep interest in the title of the new Union. He had been accustomed to lecture upon the heroes of the great political convulsion which culminated in the Great Civil War and it was but natural therefore that the name ‘Commonwealth’ should occur to him. It was received however


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with scanty favour by the Committee because of the flavour of Republicanism and the suggestion of Separation that it was considered to convey. After a very brief discussion it was rejected and the choice appeared to be between the Federation or the Federal States of Australasia. Sir Henry Parkes's seconder, Mr Deakin, after a night's reflection became enamoured of the name proposed and next day reopened the contest in its favour and attack[ed] the rival epithets as barbarous, clumsy and uneuphonious. This attempt too would have failed but for an energetic personal canvass which he took on its behalf. Adye Douglas had for all his conservatism a streak of republicanism in his politics and had once made a speech in which he declared independence to be the inevitable destiny of Australia. An appeal to this sentiment secured his support. Inglis Clark's tendencies ran somewhat in the same direction so that from the first he was favourable. Griffith and Barton accepted it out of friendship for Parkes and Sir George Grey as the more radical title of those submitted. It was finally carried by one vote, after a heated discussion destined to be renewed in the Convention and in several of the local Parliaments. Gradually however opposition died away and by 1898 the title had become finally established.

The Committee debates were harmonious throughout and the chief provisions of the Bill were endorsed by substantial majorities. The acceptance of the South Australian system of permitting the Senate to make suggestions instead of amendments in money bills solved the chief difficulty, while Sir Samuel Griffith's doubts as to the future of responsible government were satisfied by the absence of any provision requiring members of the Executive to hold seats in Parliament. Sir George Grey's proposal to limit all electors to a single vote and Mr Deakin's propositions for the direct election of members of the Senate and the introduction of the Referendum in the event of deadlocks were dismissed with little delay. Ultimately the details were decided and then Sir Samuel Griffith withdrew to the steam yacht owned by the Queensland Government, which was then lying in Sydney Harbour, with a chosen company including Mr Barton and Mr Clark, who had submitted a draft Bill prior to the meeting of the Convention and both of whom had some hand in the drafting, though even Clark's share was small. Mr Kingston and Mr B. R. Wise, a brilliant young barrister then out of politics, had some small share in the criticism but as [a] whole and in every clause the measure bore the stamp of Sir Samuel Griffith's patient and


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untiring handiwork, his terse, clear style and force of expression. The Bill as a whole speaks for itself. There are few even in the mother country or the United States who could have accomplished such a piece of draftsmanship with the same finish in the same time. While not altogether free from the sensitiveness of authorship, especially in points upon which he felt his clauses to be vulnerable, his demeanour when in charge of the Bill in Committee before the whole Convention was almost unimpeachable in temper, courtesy and considerateness. Sir Henry Parkes was the convener and presiding chief of the Convention, but the Bill which represented its labours and remained as its memorial, was in style and spirit far more the creation of Sir Samuel Griffith and far more nearly expressed his own ideal than that of Parkes or any other member. Its substance would have remained much the same in almost any event but not only was the form it assumed his, but by his insight in the first instance and his lucidity afterwards, he saved his fellow-members much time, much confusion and much fruitless discussion.

When once the question of the money powers of the two Chambers were defined and the South Australian practice accepted, the fighting energies of the Convention diminished and the proceedings came to an uneventful close. The financial provisions were felt to be unsatisfactory but it was even then realised that any settlement in this direction must be in some degree experimental and its difficulties solved by a cutting of the Gordian knot rather than its untying. The Bill as drafted was at once a testimony to the ability and shrewdness of its framers and also to the immaturity of their views. The bold outline of the form of government then adopted was reproduced in 1897-8, the only important changes being the substitution of an elective Senate for a body chosen by the State Parliaments and the revival of the right to appeal to the Privy Council. But the simple and sometimes stately general language of Sir Samuel Griffith's Bill was replaced by more elaborate and technical phraseology in order to render the intention more precise, while by the introduction of the single vote and a means of terminating deadlocks which induced a dissolution of the Senate, the whole measure was given a more decidedly democratic development. Yet the later Convention raised and magnified many more obstacles than it surmounted and in some instances, as with regard to the control of rivers and attempted control of Federal expenditure, introduced new dangers, thus justifying the wisdom and restraint of the men who in 1891 drew


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with a bold hand the shape and features of a Constitution so far as it has ever as yet proved possible to determine them.

The feeling of responsibility was somewhat less keen in 1891, as those present were after all but Parliamentary nominees. There was the inevitable delay at the opening and scurry at the close which seem inseparable from all legislative bodies. The hospitalities of Sydney were as usual lavish but badly managed, the endeavour being made to accommodate too many local guests as well as the visitors. There were no caucuses or even private gatherings, no parties and few personal animosities engendered. The probability that those present were engaged in drafting a Constitution for a great country led to a certain amount of posing for photographers and in ‘Hansard’. Indeed the success of the undertaking was generally assumed on all hands and especially during the heat of their labours the members, becoming enamoured of their handiwork, were evidently unable to stand off and regard it with the dispassionate eye of outside criticism. Any antagonism that was manifested was from sources [with] which it was evident that local political feeling had much to do, and consequently at the close of its labours the Convention seemed to be launching its bark upon a halcyon sea.

Within itself the Convention exhibited little change. Sir Henry Parkes proved a dignified President and by no means inclined to unduly interfere in debate or exercise authority in the Chair. Age was visibly telling upon him but it was also evident that in Committee he felt to some extent out of his element. He lacked a vigorous opposition to fire his blood, and a party from whom he could receive hearty support in the hour of danger when exerting himself to appeal to them. These conditions did not exist. He was deeply concerned to see the meeting crowned with success. It was the last and greatest ambition of his life to be father, and if possible first Premier, of an United Australia. With this end in view he bore a good deal and would have endured much more than it was necessary for him to do. Besides, he was always very sensible of certain public proprieties and desirous of acting the part of President with becoming deportment. The immense importance which he attached to such consideration was made manifest one day at luncheon when, contrary to his general practice, he took his meal in the general dining hall and was chatting with Mr Deakin whom after a reflective pause he asked what element most conduced to success in public life and on receiving some indifferent reply, said thoughtfully but very impressively, as if to


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prove his own thesis—‘Manner—Manner—Manner’—a modern version of the Demosthenic ‘Delivery, Delivery, Delivery’ as the first quality of the orator. Up to this dictum he most steadily and persistently lived and certainly his great height, leonine head and commanding gestures, if natural, were always employed by him with consummate art so as to render his words trebly impressive in any assembly and effective even in the rough-and-tumble diversions of an election meeting. In the Convention his contributions were limited to consideration of a few first principles such as many there might have uttered and were certainly surpassed by several of the best speeches. But in Manner he remained from first to last the Chief and leader of the whole Convention.

At its close Griffith's influence had become supreme, for his moderate attitude conciliated the members from the less populous colonies, while his abilities and zeal for Union won the respect of the whole body. His manner gave no assurance except of self-confident calm and well-informed capacity to deal with the problems submitted in an impartial manner, but his work was eloquent more than supplying any want of charm. No other representative rivalled him. Barton was somewhat indolent and retiring though obviously one of the weightiest debaters; Kingston was nervous and ineffective in spite of his power; Clark nervous and ungainly in style, though full of matter. Munro and Playford as practical working Premiers were watchful and urgent throughout, and Sir Henry Wrixon made friends by the courtesy and lucidity of his few addresses. Generally speaking therefore, [the Convention] closed without displaying any great disparities between the colonies or the individuals who represented them. The official heads of the Conventions were also its actual leaders and on the whole local jealousies were kept well in hand. Auguring from such omens, the members not unnaturally separated full of hope and confidence in the early establishment of an Australian Union.

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